No, That's Not a Desert— That's the Mississippi River

Drought, record-low water levels are mucking up ship routes and commerce along trade super-route
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 29, 2022 10:45 AM CDT
No, That's Not a Desert— That's the Mississippi River
A dried-up portion of the Mississippi.   (YouTube/CBS)

Every year, 589 million tons of freight moves up and down the Mississippi River, which CNN deems "America's most important trade waterway." But you may need to take "water" out of that description along many sections of the route, as a historic drought has caused the water to drop down to record-low levels, per CBS News. That, in turn, is wreaking havoc at peak harvest time on the annual $400 billion shipping industry on the river. More than 90% of America's agricultural exports are transported along the Mississippi.

"It's stark. We are seeing operational challenges that are almost unprecedented," says Paul Rohde, vice president of the Midwest region of the Waterways Council, noting that 40% of the world's food supply sees its origin at the Mississippi River Basin. "This is a serious issue about who's going to feed the world if America can't get its agriculture products out." The AP notes that with the water levels so low, barges are in danger of their bellies hitting the bottom of the river and becoming mired in the mud, with salvage companies often required to come to the rescue. Ships that want to avoid that fate can lessen their loads so they don't sink as far down, but then they can't carry as many goods.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been working nonstop for three months, dredging the river and especially attempting to keep a 9-foot-deep channel going near the major port city of St. Louis. But "we can dredge it to a certain point, and then Mother Nature wins," Lou Dell'Orco, chief of operations for the St. Louis District Corps of Engineers, tells CBS. Rohde tells CBS that the waterway is "irreplaceable," and that the issues need to be remedied. "We have got to keep commerce moving," he tells CBS. The drought isn't expected to subside until at least January. Check out video of the dried-up sections of the river here. (More Mississippi River stories.)

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